ECE Hosts SYP’s Women In Engineering Week

WIE participants learn soldering skills in the ECE teaching lab for their take-away Drawdio projects.

Fridays with Fuhrmann, June 24, 2016

This week Michigan Tech is hosting our Women in Engineering program, part of our larger Michigan Tech Summer Youth Programs. WIE is a high school program that brings young women with an interest in science and engineering to campus, and gives them a chance to investigate a variety of engineering careers across all disciplines. Participants work in teams on interesting and challenging engineering projects, get insight from role models working in industry, learn about the college application process, experience college life, and enjoy team competitions, entertainment, and outdoor activities. As an added bonus this year, the weather has been absolutely spectacular and so our guests get to see what a great place the Keweenaw can be in the summer.

We have about 360 young women coming through ECE Department in this year’s program. ECE Associate Chair Glen Archer organizes things at a high level, and ECE PhD student and soon-to-be graduate Jenn Winikus is in charge of implementing the program and really being the face of the ECE Department for the participants. I thank them both for their hard work and outstanding efforts.

I have touched on this in previous columns, but it bears repeating that bringing more women into engineering fields, especially electrical and computer engineering, remains an important and perplexing problem. Our undergraduate female enrollment in the ECE Department has hovered around 10% for many years. Recent trends point to a slight increase, but we are nowhere near the percentage of female college enrollment overall, or even in engineering. We spend a lot of time wondering why this should be the case, and what we can do about it.

The first question that one unfamiliar with our field might ask is, are young women scared off because they cannot handle the rigors of an electrical engineering education? The answer to that is an unequivocal no, and in fact the suggestion of such a thing would be considered offensive around here. There is no evidence to suggest that women are any less capable in math, science, and engineering topics and engineering design skills than their male counterparts, in fact all of our everyday experience here points to a strong capable group of women making their way through our programs just like the men. They engage in all of our educational and leadership programs and are highly recruited by industry. Some might suggest there is a “confidence gap”, in which women who struggle with the material lose confidence in their ability to overcome obstacles and achieve success. While this can certainly happen, I see it just as often with some of our male students who aren’t getting it and decide to take a different path. Michigan Tech is making a major effort to support students, both men and women, who need a little extra push to be successful in their first year or two and continue in the program. How much we should be doing is a matter of some debate, but on the whole I am supportive of efforts to see our students gain the confidence they need to succeed in our educational programs and enter the engineering workforce.

So, if ability is not the issue, then could it be interest? Some say that women are more interested in the “helping professions”, which might explain the much popularity of programs in biomedical engineering and environmental engineering. Personally, I reject this notion.  What could be more “helping” than providing reliable electrical power to an entire population, providing reliable worldwide communication, developing the technologies that keep our soldiers safe abroad and our citizens secure at home, or designing a wide array of products for the audio and visual entertainment? Perhaps we need to work harder to educate everyone on all the ways that electrical and computer engineers have helped humanity. Even as you read this, you are taking advantage of technology developed over the past decades by thousands of electrical engineers, and as you walk away from your computer and turn to other activity, chances are you are going to pick up something else that has ECE fingerprints all over it. We help, we really do!

Maybe there is something about the profession itself that women find unattractive. This, outside of just not knowing what the opportunities are, is the argument that makes the most sense. It is true that electrical engineering (and mechanical engineering too) are fields that are dominated by men. Young women surveying that landscape simply may not see a place for themselves and their future. Women can look at biologists, doctors, or biomedical engineering, and easily project themselves into those professions because there is so much parity already. The workplace environment just looks so much more inviting in those fields. Stories about the “brogramming” culture in Silicon Valley don’t help much either. There is plenty of work to be done to make sure that our workplaces and our educational institutions are places that are welcoming to all, and a little extra effort is needed in electrical engineering to make that obvious, as it should be, when it comes to women.

It comes down to a chicken and egg problem – the fields of electrical and computer engineering need to attract more women, and the way to do that is for the fields of electrical and computer engineering to have more women in them. While we continue to struggle to reach a “tipping point” in this regard, we do what we can, like hosting the Women in Engineering program and diversifying the concentrations in our educational programs. More importantly, we need to be vigilant in maintaining a constant awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion, and I am beginning to realize that inclusion is the more important piece of the two. It is not enough to bring people with a variety of gender and ethnic backgrounds into the organization; all people must feel like that are part of the inside group, making decisions and being responsible for the success of the organization. I see that here at Michigan Tech and I am certain it is an issue in engineering workplaces nationwide. This is an area where I will push for change as long as I am ECE chair at Michigan Tech.

Speaking of which – and I’ll close with this – last week I signed my reappointment letter which keeps me in this position for four more years (I have one year remaining in my current term, and will start a new 3-year term in 2017.) I look forward to serving Michigan Tech and the ECE Department, and continuing to share my experiences with you.

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University

Oliveira gives invited talk at Federal University of Bahia-Brazil

ECE Associate Professor Aurenice Oliveira

Aurenice Oliveira (ECE) gave an invited talk at Federal University of Bahia-Brazil (UFBA) on June 13, 2016. Dr. Oliveira talked about possibilities for research collaborations in communications, signal processing, and international education. She also gave an overview of study opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students at Michigan Technological University. Dr. Oliveira had the opportunity to meet with several UFBA officials including the Vice President for Research and the International Office Director to discuss an international agreement between Michigan Tech and UFBA.

New Funding for Detection of Buried and Obscured Targets

Timothy Havens (ECE/ICC), is the principal investigator on a project that has received a $99,779 research and development grant from the U.S. Department of Defense-Army Research Office.

Joseph Burns (MTRI) and Timothy Schulz (ECE) are co-PIs on the project “Multisensor Analysis and Algorithm Development for Detection and Classification of Buried and Obscured Targets.”

This is the first year of a potential three-year project totaling $1,066,799.

From Tech Today, by Sponsored Programs.

Kamppinen recognized for 25 years of service

President Glenn Mroz congratulates ECE’s Michele Kamppinen for 25 years of service to Michigan Tech

Annual Service Recognition Event

On Tuesday, June 14, faculty and staff members, along with their guests, gathered at the Rozsa Center lobby for the annual Staff Council Service Recognition Luncheon. Awards were presented for five-year increments of service to more than 150 staff members. A dinner for those reaching 25 years or more was held on May 11. The following ECE staff member was recognized:

25 Years
Michele Kamppinen, Staff Assistant, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Read more at Tech Today, by Human Resources.

Fridays with Fuhrmann: Spring into Summer

FWF_image_20160520It is a fabulously beautiful day in the Keweenaw, and I am taking the day off to get some things done around the house, and to get ready to spend the weekend with some good friends at a cabin on Lake Superior, about an hour north of town.

Back around the time of Winter Carnival, I took a break from writing about engineering and education, and focused instead on snow and winter recreation in the Copper Country. Later on this summer I will do the same for all the summertime recreational opportunities, which are also abundant.

Today I just want to say that I am very much looking forward to the summer, which is starting about now. We don’t get much in the way of spring in Houghton. In April and early May there is an “in-between” time when the snow is melted but the days are still cold, often gray, and there is no green in the trees and grass. The town itself looks a little worn out from the long winter, and the streets are kind of dirty and dusty from all the stamp sand that was put down when there was snow. Then, all of a sudden – boom! – the weather warms up, the trees leaf out, the lawns turn green, the city cleans up the streets, and it is summertime.

Summertime also means long days in Houghton. They are made even longer, apparently, by a quirk in the time zones. Most of the Upper Peninsula, including Houghton County, is in the Eastern time zone. This is despite the fact that, if you draw a line straight north from Chicago, which is in the Central time zone, we are just to the west of that line. We are about as far west in the Eastern time zone as one can get. The “urban legend” is that this was done to keep the copper mines on the same time zone as the businesses in Boston that owned them. One implication for us is that, as we near the summer solstice in June, the sun goes down at around 9:50 p.m. and it stays light until 10:30 or 11:00. Even though we are not nearly as far north as, say, Alaska, in the middle of the summer one can still see a faint glow at night on the northern horizon that never gets completely dark.

Things are pretty quiet around campus. This is a time when a lot of faculty take vacation, go to conferences, or visit professional colleagues. We do teach summer classes in the ECE Department, but those classes tend to have a more relaxed and informal feel compared to the academic year. After Memorial Day things will pick up, as more people return to campus, taking advantage of the time to get some work done, make some progress on research projects, and maybe develop some new ideas and new directions.

One of the items on my “to-do” list for this summer is to develop a good strategic plan for the ECE Department, which the faculty can work on when we all get together again in August. I will let you know how that goes. Actually, the first item on the to-do list is to figure out how to do a better job managing the to-do list. But, I say that every year about this time.
Hope springs eternal.

Enjoy the summer everyone!

– Dan

Daniel R. Fuhrmann
Dave House Professor and Chair
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Michigan Technological University